Wed | Aug 16, 2017

'119 pranks cost lives' - Cops frustrated by improper use of emergency line

Published:Sunday | January 10, 2016 | 1:00 AMCorey Robinson

Prank and otherwise inappro-priate calls are clogging up police 119 emergency lines, posing a real danger for persons who are genuinely in need of timely assistance.

Head of the Police Control Centre Superintendent Gary Francis said his officers receive between 27,000 and 33,000 calls per day, a minimum of 24 calls per minute, and of that number, 70 per cent are from pranksters or persons asking directions to the nearest restaurant or department store.

"There are a number of calls that are out of this world, some of which are disrespectful ... . But persons will call to ask you for a number for even a fast-food restaurant," explained Francis, obviously peeved as he relayed to The Sunday Gleaner the challenges faced by his already insufficient staff.

"Persons call to ask you answers to assignments for school. Persons call to tell you that the children are making noise at their heads. Persons call ... [for] all kinds of foolishness," continued Francis. "If they see a broken main, they call 119. If they see an animal on the roadway, they call 119. People call us for everything. I think they generally don't know when to use the 119 emergency numbers," he said.

Francis claimed that some individuals use the 119 emergency service as opposed to telephone-directory assistance because the 119 calls are free of cost from any phone, unlike the latter.

The Police Control Centre operates from four locations islandwide - Kingston, Montego Bay in St James, St Mary, and Mandeville in Manchester.

A call from a person in distress can be picked up by any of these centres, dependent on geography, and are usually put to the closest police station, which then dispatches patrolling officers to attend to the situation.

The entire process should take no more than three minutes, said Francis, but due to a heavy influx of non-emergency calls, persons in genuine need are left to wait for lengthy periods. This wait sometimes results in lives lost, he said.

FIRST CALL, FIRST ANSWER

"We have the capacity to respond to all our emergency calls if we only get emergency calls. But there is a call-queuing mechanism on the system that we operate, and that queues the calls according to how they are received. It's a first-call, first-answer basis," he explained.

"You might be in a situation where you need the police and you dial 119. But 10 seconds before you, 30 persons dialled 119 and you make 31 in the line. We have to go through all of those before we get to you. And sometimes when we get to you, the call is dropped," he said.

Francis declined to speak to the number of staff at the call centres, but said that even with additional hands, the high number of prank and non-emergency calls is still overbearing.

He said that prank and strange calls occur on almost all work shifts, sometimes up to 13,000 on each work segment. The calls usually increase during the holiday periods, such as last Christmas, when children would have been home on holidays.

"I believe that some of our people genuinely don't know when to call 119. I think that some people are pranksters and just want to cause problems, but some people, I think, just genuinely don't know when to call 119," he said.

"We want people to desist from making prank calls, and we want parents to educate their children as to when to dial 119. Children are normally at home and they utilise the 119," he said. "It is a dangerous practice. It sounds like a joke to the persons doing it, but it can result in the loss of life or the loss of several lives."

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com